19 July 2016

How the Right Tears Down America


Attached is a thoughtful op-ed piece by my good buddy Mike Lofgren.  Lofgren is a retired congressional staffer, who served as a defense specialist on the Republican side of both the House and Senate Budget committees.  When I first met him in the late 1980s or early 1990s, he impressed me immensely; since then my admiration has grown.  Since his retirement, Lofgren has authored two very important books analyzing the ossified nature of U.S. politics: 
  1. The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted 
  2. The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government.
His latest op-ed builds on these analyses; and it is outstanding, even when measured against Lofgren's own high standards.  .

Chuck Spinney
****
How the Right Tears Down America
America surely has problems, but the Republican Right tends to ignore its role in causing them and now – under President Obama – exaggerates how bad the situation is, writes former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren.
By Mike Lofgren, Consortium News, July 16, 2016
[Reposted with permission of the author and the editor of Consortium News]

Barton Swaim, former speechwriter for Mark Sanford, the walking governor of South Carolina, is now a disillusioned conservative pundit. In his latest opinion piece, he denounces Republicans’ belief that America is “off track” solely because of President Obama, and that putting the right people in power will put us “on track.”
Swaim argues against this by saying the “track” analogy is a faulty metaphor, because countries are not like vehicles. Policies are not interchangeable parts: once implemented, they imbed themselves in the political and social fabric. He is broadly correct.
President Ronald Reagan with Budget Director David Stockman. (Photo credit: Reagan Library)
He also says – surprisingly for a Republican – that the GOP’s insistence that Barack Obama’s presidency is some sort of fluke at best and a monstrous hoax on the American people at worst a silly delusion. “Obama was elected and reelected, fair and square, and . . . and the American public knew what it was doing.”
So far, so good. A large number of GOP politicians, from Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell on down, have treated Obama since the beginning of his presidency as illegitimate and as an enemy to be maligned and legislatively blackmailed rather than treated as America’s chief executive. This attitude gave us government shutdowns, a near-default on our sovereign credit, and some of the worst congresses in history.
But then Swaim veers off track himself, indignantly rejecting the “defamatory belief . . . that the reason the Republican base detests Obama so deeply is because he is black.” In not a single conversation with all the Republicans Swaim knew was Obama’s race even as much as a subtext in their denunciations.
Really? He must have hung out with a more refined bunch than I encountered when I was a GOP operative. Did the “Obama-was-born-in-Kenya” meme that took the GOP base by storm in 2009 just fall out of the sky like an asteroid, with no cultural “subtext” to it? And how about the degrading caricatures depicting the president as an animal that one sees at conservative rallies and in right-wing chat rooms? Readers can draw their own conclusions.
Next, Swaim swerves into full declinist mode, like an Oswald Spengler of the Palmetto State. Republicans need to acknowledge, he says, that “America is in decline,” and there is nothing we can do to reverse it, only “manage the decline.”
Again, really? Certainly, the country faces serious problems: domestically, our prosperity is more unequally shared than at any time since the days of Calvin Coolidge, and there is a chronic disinvestment in infrastructure. Abroad, we are too prone to assume every crisis requires military intervention.
How did this happen? Domestically, it was through economic policies begun by Ronald Reagan (and continued by Democrat Bill Clinton) and doubled down on by George W. Bush. Our struggle with the hydra of Middle Eastern terrorism was made vastly worse by the decision of Bush and a Republican-led Congress to invade Iraq – arguably the worst foreign policy blunder in our nation’s history, because its global consequences are graver and longer-lasting than Vietnam’s aftereffects.
But the only example that Swaim offers that we are in decline – that America is “fast becoming a European-style regulatory state” – is ludicrous. The actual, rather than statutory, tax rate that U.S. corporations pay, is less than the average among the developed countries. The corporate share of total federal tax revenue has dropped by two-thirds in 60 years.
Compared to Whom?
While economic growth since the crash of 2008 has been tepid by post-World War II standards, it is still far better than in the European Union. Obama’s stimulus program – which Republicans voted en bloc against – kick-started a stalled economy, while many E.U. countries, applying the GOP’s favorite nostrum of austerity, continue to suffer negative growth and high unemployment.
President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his “Mission Accomplished” speech about the Iraq War.
If America is declining, we must ask: compared to whom? In the 1990s, the E.U. seemed to have the potential to become a world-beating trading bloc. But one by one, erstwhile European tech giants like Nokia and Vodafone have plummeted out of the corporate top tier, while American firms like Apple and Google are hands down the premier tech firms on the planet. The 11 largest firms in the world by market capitalization are U.S.-based. And as the Brexit vote showed, the E.U. can barely hold itself together.
Crackpot alarmists like Michael Crichton once thought Japan would eat America’s lunch. But two decades of Japanese stagnation have made that prediction as silly as Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” spoof. It has been relatively easy for a command economy like China’s to force investment into capital and export goods, but it now faces a crisis of industrial overcapacity, weak banks, and ballooning corporate, consumer and state debt. Environmental pollution – which kills 1.6 million Chinese annually – may well be an existential show-stopper for that country.
America doesn’t just have the world’s most powerful military, it is well ahead in most international comparisons: we have the best flagship universities in the world, and they draw foreigners in droves to study, teach and do research. We have the biggest rosters of Nobel Science Prize laureates and Olympic medalists, we send space probes beyond the solar system, and American English, not Mandarin, is the world’s language of business, science and culture.
Yes, there are severe problems, as stagnation in the Rust Belt and the opioid epidemic attest. But I find it ironic that conservatives, who fancy themselves the most patriotic Americans, are eager to talk down America whenever they get the chance. When constructive, moderate conservatism curdles into right-wing reaction, cultural pessimism takes hold. The leitmotif of Donald Trump’s campaign is that the whole world is beating up on poor little us.
The self-pitying, pessimistic conservatism that is now fashionable theorizes that because a majority of Americans might disagree with its tenets, that majority is morally corrupted and the American experiment has failed. This corrosive negativity is one reason I left the GOP.
I am a strong critic of America’s politics, but I am confident our problems can be redressed with good faith and the will to succeed. This assumption that the country is condemned to decline is based not on evidence, but on the Schadenfreude that some people enjoy in fantasizing that their pessimism will be validated.
It is a curiously unremarked oddity that beneath the aggrandizing, tough-guy swagger of the Trumps, Limbaughs, and O’Reillys, today’s conservatives are a swooning passel of neurotics who see every temporary setback, every cultural trend they disapprove of, and every social change that most humane people would call progress, as evidence that America is inevitably doomed.
Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His latest book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, appeared in January 2016.

13 July 2016

Draft Republican Platform Effectively Calls for Annexation of the Area C of the West Bank


Is Hillary Clinton In a Triangular Pickle?
Chuck Spinney

The so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in my opinion, has always been a distraction to buy time for the Israelis to formally annex most of the West Bank to Israel.  Much like Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, annexation of this territory will be tangled up in the unexamined question of controlling access to scarce water resources.  
This posting builds on my posting of last April, “The Palestinian Question: Why the Two-State Solution is Kaput.”  My aim was to explain how the central and generally ignored goal of controlling access to the West Bank’s water resources water is shaping Israel’s long-term settlement policies.  That posting described how issues relating to control of these water resources go a long way toward explaining the “facts-on-the-ground” pattern of accelerating settlement growth in Area C of the now defunct Oslo Accord, which comprises about 60% or the West Bank.  Ensuring fair and equitable access to the water resources of the West Bank and the River Jordan’s watershed is a necessary although not a sufficient condition for an equitable solution to the complex Palestinian Question.  That is true regardless of whether that solution takes the form of a two state solution or a single-state bi-national solution. 
However, the momentum of developments, in terms of the interaction between weak and vacillating US policies and the accelerating rate of Israel’s settlement growth in Area C, is leading inexorably to an Israeli annexation of Area C.  Annexation will necessarily be accompanied by a Gazification of the Palestinian enclaves making up Areas A and B, and a perpetually unfair access to the West Bank’s water resources.  
Haaretz, Israel’s leading left-of-center newspaper, recently carried a report entitled, About Face on U.S. Foreign Policy: GOP Platform to Drop Support for Two State Solution.  This report was first published in the Jewish Insider, and it informs the reader that the draft Republican platform rejects the “false notion” that Israel is occupying the West Bank. The draft language also includes, 
“Support for Israel is an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.”  
And the language goes on to recognize that --  
“the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (“BDS”) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel.”  It calls for federal legislation “to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner.”
Whether Donald Trump will buy into such a blatant subordination of American interests to those of Israel is as yet an unanswered question.  But the language puts Israel into political play in the 2016 presidential election.  This creates a potential for a bidding war that could land Ms. Clinton in an awkward position.
To date, a cynical political strength of Ms. Clinton’s campaign is that a large number of pro-Israeli Republican neo-cons in the national security establishment are flocking to her campaign.  This crossover creates an appearance if not the reality of bestowing on Ms. Clinton an enhanced national security gravitas, at least among the Beltway establishment and mainstream media.  Her control of the Democratic platform committee has already enabled Ms. Clinton to defeat platform language criticizing Israel’s occupation policies.  Watch this video; note particularly the reference to the BDS by a Clinton stalwart
Despite the Democratic platform committee’s stuffing of the Palestinian Question, the draft Democratic platform says nothing comparable to the Republican language.  That silence may not go far enough to placate Hillary’s neocon crossovers.  So, Ms. Clinton may come under pressure to strengthen her already strong pro-Israel stance in an effort to outbid the Republicans in the war to win the anti-Trump Republican voters.  
But in so doing, Clinton may drive Sanders’ supporters into throwing up their hands in disgust and staying home in November or voting for the Green or Libertarian candidates. 
How this supposed “lessor of two evils" triangulates her way out of this cul de sac will be a fascinating spectacle in the Roman circus passing for a presidential election.

Cross-posted in LobeLog, Consortium News, and Counterpunch

08 July 2016

Defense Spending: Do Presidents Make a Difference?


Introduction
It’s generally taken for granted in the press and by the Defense Cognoscenti that the election of a president is a major determinant of  the size and shape of the defense budget.  It is also conventional wisdom that Republicans have been more pro-defense than Democrats — with the degree of being pro-defense measured by the size of the defense budget.  If these assumptions were universally true, the historical record would bear this out.  But the historical record is mixed, to put it charitably. 
If one breaks down defense spending into totals for four-year presidential terms since the dawn of the Cold War, one might argue that Ronald Reagan’s defense budgets proved that presidents make a difference , but the distinction is a weak one at best, as the patterns of budget totals in this figure suggest.  And if one compares the defense budget total for all the Republican presidents combined to that for all the Democratic presidents combined (see this graphic), the distinction vanishes.  Finally if one simply looks at the statistical distributions of annual defense budgets independently of when they occurred, parsed by party of the sitting president, the distinction between Republicans and Democrats vanishes again.    
So, if the political party of the president or the person of the president does not make a major difference when it comes to size of the defense budget, what does?  This is a question that goes to the heart of political economy of the  Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex or MICC.  
Ace investigative journalist Kelley Vlahos presents a more realistic answer to the preceding question in the attached essay: She argues that the essence of the defense spending game lies more in the cooperative decisions made in the industrial - congressional relations of the MICC’s iron triangle and with the person or political party of the President.  It is a view that is consistent with my experience.
Chuck Spinney

Military-Industrial Election
How defense firms spend campaign cash
By KELLEY BEAUCAR VLAHOS, American Conservative, July 6, 2016
[Reposted with permission of the author]


WASHINGTON—Like all special interests in the nation’s capital, the defense industry is spending millions of dollars this election season to ensure a front-row spot at the federal trough—and in the case of the most powerful military-industrial contractors, a chance to influence the national-security policies that will keep production lines humming and profit margins growing.
Defense contractors took a keen interest in the Republican and Democratic primaries, backing candidates for reasons both ideological and commercial. How they will divide their dollars between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the general election remains to be seen, though there are reasons to think one of the major-party nominees will be especially receptive to industry support. For the military-industrial complex, however, the race for the White House is not the whole story—and in the ways that matter most, this year’s elections mean business as usual.
♦♦♦
By April 30, the defense sector had given more than $1.6 million to the broad field of presidential candidates. Among all the 2016 hopefuls, Ted Cruz was the recipient of the most defense-industry dollars, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Cruz received a total of $343,000, followed—perhaps surprisingly—by Bernie Sanders with $323,000, and then Hillary Clinton with more than $273,000.
Sanders’s place at the top of the Democratic heap in terms of defense-sector support may seem odd for a man who attacked Clinton’s support for overseas military interventions. But it’s not so strange at all when one considers that the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter—the most expensive aircraft in U.S. history, and more than a decade overdue—underwent development in Sanders’s home state of Vermont.
Lockheed, the maker of the F-35 and the biggest recipient of Pentagon contracts in 2015, gave Sanders $36,600 through March. He also got more money from Boeing than Clinton—nearly $46,000 in that period, according to Alexander Cohen of the Center for Public Integrity.
Meanwhile, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, Donald Trump, by then already the presumptive Republican nominee, had received only $17,818 as of May. Republican dropouts Jeb Bush ($212,108) and Lindsey Graham ($135,925) filled out the top five this spring, under Cruz, Sanders, and Clinton.
While the total figure for defense corporations’ giving directly to presidential candidates was just $1.65 million as of the end of April, that number does not count the companies’ political action committees, which pour cash into presidential coffers and, even more so, those of congressional candidates and party committees. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have PACs that rank among the wealthiest in the industry. Lockheed’s PAC, which spread around over $1.6 million for federal candidates this spring, had given $10,000 to Cruz by the end of March. Northrop Grumman’s PAC, on the other hand, gave all of its $1.5 million as of March to House and Senate candidates—mostly Republicans.
Over and above ordinary PAC spending, the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision allows for unlimited contributions to super PACs from corporations. “Now [that special interests] can spend as much money as they want, I think you will find more lopsided contributions,” notes Pierre Sprey, a defense analyst and critic who spoke with TAC. “This is a huge sword hanging over the heads of the candidates.” And although Super PACs must ultimately disclose their donors to the FEC, issue-oriented nonprofits need not do so, and they too can be tools of defense-industry influence on public opinion. The overall picture of how defense dollars shape politics is shadowy—but what we can see is telling.
♦♦♦
Now that the primaries are over, the question is whether defense dollars will favor Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. In recent cycles, Republican nominees have received more contributions from the sector than Democrats have. That might change this year, both because Trump has been slow to build a fundraising base among special interests—whose money he turned down during the primary season—and because Clinton has a candidate profile that seems like an especially good fit for military industries.
When asked this spring about the campaign by ABC’s Martha Raddatz, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said of Clinton, with classic understatement, “I think that she probably would be somewhat more hawkish than President Obama.”
As secretary of state, Clinton worked with Gates and David Petraeus, the director of the CIA at the time, to push for more aggressive intervention against the Assad government in Syria. She led the charge into Libya—now a roiling mess of dysfunction and a waystation for many Islamic fighters in the region. Clinton’s support for military intervention goes much farther back than that, however. History has her behind the scenes in her husband Bill Clinton’s administration, along with then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, pressing for an early bombing campaign in Bosnia in 1993.
“Hillary Clinton has been part of the Washington establishment for a quarter century. I think the defense contractors likely view her as a known quantity,” says Dan Grazier, retired Marine Corps captain, Iraq veteran, and now a senior military analyst at the Project for Government Oversight. “And she does have a hawkish reputation, which is obviously good for their bottom line.”
In a New York Times story titled “How Hillary Became a Hawk,” correspondent Mark Landler described the occasion when Gates and Pacific Commander Adm. Robert Willard were pushing for the USS George Washington to steer an aggressive course into the Yellow Sea after the North Koreans torpedoed a South Korean ship in 2010, killing 46 on board. “We’ve got to run it up the gut!” Clinton reportedly said in agreement, getting an admiring chuckle from her staff for the quick football analogy. Obama chose not to take her advice. Nor did he take it when she had recommended a year earlier that he approve Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan.
As Landler’s story makes clear, Clinton has had an unusually accommodating relationship with generals and top civilian brass. She has always been portrayed as a sympathetic partner, an enabler-in-waiting. To the wider national-security establishment, she is clearly “of the body.”
“She believes, like presidents going back to the Reagan or Kennedy years, in the importance of the military—in solving terrorism, in asserting American influence,” Vali Nasr, Clinton’s former advisor at the State Department, told Landler.
So she naturally ranks high with the military-industrial complex too. Not only does she represent the status quo—or something more than the status quo—with respect to military spending and operations, she has been favored by the political class to win from the beginning. “In that, the contractors probably view their contributions to her campaign as a safe bet,” Dan Grazier told TAC.
Trump, on the other hand, is an unknown quantity who until recently eschewed special-interest funding, and his take from the defense industry during the primaries was correspondingly paltry. But that may change.
After all, with billions at stake, defense companies have incentives to hedge their bets. According to the website Defense News, the Pentagon’s top 100 contractors brought in a total of $175.1 billion in 2015. Lockheed Martin was the largest single contractor for the U.S. government last year, raking in $36.2 billion in federal contracts, followed by Boeing at $16.6 billion, General Dynamics with $13.6 billion, Raytheon with $13.1 billion, and Northrop Grumman with $10.6 billion.
But if the defense industry has to “give a little to get a little”—or  give a lot to get a lot—contributions to presidential candidates aren’t necessarily what deliver the most bang for the military-industrial buck.
♦♦♦
The defense industry is in fact a relatively marginal player in the presidential contest, at least from what the visible paper trail shows. Hillary Clinton is far more reliant on resources from the securities and investment industry. The war machine doesn’t even crack her top-20 list of contributors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
That’s because the defense sector spends its money elsewhere. By putting their cash into Congress, defense industries can elect and influence legislators who will remain in Washington far longer than any president. Congress is where the action is: defense executives and their lobbyists work with the elected officials beholden to them to write bills, pad budgets, and shift contract work into specific legislators’ districts to ensure that projects will be funded and otherwise supported over the long haul.
“The arms manufacturers are putting a lot of money” into presidential candidates, says Pierre Sprey, “but it’s nothing compared to the day-in, day-out money they’re giving to Congress.” Simply put, Congress is a better investment.
Congress can undo any administration decision that Boeing or Lockheed doesn’t like,” Sprey observes. “Defense contractors have enormous influence in shaping the secretary of defense’s decisions, but if the secretary happens to do something that displeases the industry, they will get Congress to undo that too, taking advantage of the broad leverage the companies have bought by spreading subcontracts across 48 states, by contributing generously to key committee congressmen, and by unleashing armies of lobbyists and paid-for think-tank pundits.”
Government watchdogs who spoke with TAC say that the defense contracting community focuses about as much of its attention on the authorizers—the Senate and House Armed Services Committees—as on the appropriators. That’s because the real payoff for defense contributions is in getting programs—weapon systems, vehicles, aircraft, ships, drones, nuclear armaments and all of the requisite technology—approved in the defense policy bills each year.
“As authorizers, they have a lot of capacity to at least start making the arguments [on behalf of defense contractors], even if they can’t necessarily put the money into the account,” says Mandy Smithberger, military-reform analyst for the Project for Government Oversight.
So far in the 2016 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Government, the defense sector spent over $17 million, the vast majority going to House and Senate candidates and party committees. The split is pretty uneven—63 percent of the cash goes to Republicans, 36 percent to Democrats—largely because the Republicans are in charge of both the House and Senate.
The top of the list? Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), new chair of the House Armed Services Committee, who had received at least $308,000 as of April. According to the Center for Public Integrity’s Alexander Cohen, Thornberry—who has been in office 21 years—received a total of $933,415 from the largest 75 defense companies over his last decade on the committee.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, comes in third on the list, with $265,450 as of this writing. The next Republican after him is a top F-35 proponent, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), chairman of the HASC Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, who raked in $181,950. He’s followed by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, with $166,700.
They may not all be household names, but to the defense sector they are veritable golden geese.
Cohen says the defense sector sprinkles plenty of green on members who sit on the joint House-Senate conference committee, too. This panel hashes out the final details of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and its 48 members—34 of them from the HASC and SASC—got, in all, no less than $20.6 million in contributions from defense contractors and their employees between 2003 to 2014, four times as much as members of the Armed Services committees who were not appointed as conferees.
The HASC recently passed its 2017 NDAA, calling for a $583 billion hike in spending, including such line items as 11 more F-35s and a $2 billion boost to the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. According to an Associated Press report, the committee members calling for this $18 billion increase have received $10 million over the course of their careers from defense contractors who “would benefit from higher levels of military spending.” The House Appropriations Committee sent a lower budget figure, $575.5 billion, to the floor in May, but critics warn of tricky accounting: the House Appropriations plan uses wartime contingency funds to get around funding caps for baseline budgeting.
♦♦♦
Defense contractors and their surrogates—who include not only lawmakers but also lobbyists and analysts from think tanks that represent the industry on Capitol Hill—say the big fight in 2017 will be getting rid of those spending caps, which were put into place under the Budget Control Act (BCA), the “sequester” of 2011.
“Absolutely,” says Dave Deptula, executive director of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, a nonprofit think tank that advances Air Force interests, including the F-35, in Washington. The BCA, he says, “is undercutting our capabilities and should be eliminated.” He contends that readiness and capital projects have been sacrificed under the caps. “What we did to our Air Force and our military writ large was what our enemies could only hope to achieve.”
Mandy Smithberger replies that industry backers like Deptula overstate the austerity imposed by the budget controls. Such friends of the industry, she contends, demand gold-plated programs that actually divert money away from less expensive and more capable alternatives.
“Lockheed’s investments [in Congress] have definitely paid off when it comes to F-35 in the defense bill every year,” says Smithberger. The company, which has contributed over $15 million to congressional races since 2006, ensures that the F-35 dollars keep coming by splitting up subcontracts—with each subcontractor responsible for making a different piece—across hundreds of congressional districts. Jobs in those districts are leverage for Lockheed Martin. “The F-35 is in 46 different states and 350 districts,” Smithburger says. “That is a lot of political support for one program.”
Even when the Department of Defense asks for something else, lawmakers in the pocket of contractors make sure the companies’ pet projects are funded anyway. And the corruption is getting worse.
“It used to be that members of congress would pork themselves up only for contracts that had a significant impact in their state or district,” says defense analyst and former GAO researcher Winslow Wheeler. “That day is long gone. Members squabble for ‘credit’ even for the tiniest level of spending in their political jurisdiction, to say nothing of going along with anything produced anywhere by anyone if there is the slightest prospect—always rewarded—of a contribution.”
Because of this entrenchment, little will change next year no matter who wins the White House, says Dan Grazier. “My natural cynicism is telling me there won’t be any difference between this year and the next.” That’s what the industry is counting on.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance reporter.

01 July 2016

Message of the 2016 Election: Goodbye Checks and Balances for Controlling Defense Spending


Flush With Cash; Running on Empty (V)
Chuck Spinney
[Clarification: I have endeavored to keep this discussion brief, so most of the links in this essay refer to my earlier, more detailed postings that elaborate on the points I am summarizing here.] 
America is engaged in the longest and second most expensive war in its history — a small war in terms of forces deployed and optempos, but a  war that is grinding on endlessly, without a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.[1] Contrary to the whining about constrained budgets causing readiness and modernization problems emanating from the Pentagon, all dutifully regurgitated without question by the mainstream media, defense spending in the Pentagon’s so called Base Budget is close to an all time high and poised to increase over the long term.  
The bulk of the Pentagon’s budget reductions from the recent peak in 2010 has been concentrated in the war fighting account (the Overseas Contingencies Operations (or OCO) account — and this is true regardless of if or how one accounts for inflation. Compared to the OCO, reductions in the Pentagon’s so-called Base Budget — i.e., that part of the defense budget responsible for maintaining readiness and ensuring modernization — have been relatively modest [2].   Moreover, President Obama is leaving his successor with a base budget containing a modernization bow wave that is poised to explode, creating unstoppable political pressures for growing defense budgets until the end of the next decade or even beyond [3].  Yet the United States now spends far more on the military than any other country in the world.  Add in the expenditures of our allies, and the spending advantage over any conceivable combination of adversaries becomes overwhelming.[4]  Claiming today that we must increase the Pentagon’s budget to counter the rising threats of spending increases by Russia and China is tantamount to saying that defense spending by the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex in the United States is grotesquely inefficient when compared to the spending of the MICC’s equivalents in Russia and China.
Most puzzling of all, the size of the Pentagon’s budget and the conduct of the militarized foreign policy that is a direct consequence of the domestic politics pushing so hard for defense budget increases are not significant political issues in the 2016 campaign for president.  
To be sure, the alternative press is full of essays describing the patent lunacy of America’s militarized foreign policy, but very little ink has been devoted to analyses of how the dirty triangular political forces of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (or MICC) drive that policy.[5]
Some people hope Donald Trump will reign in the big green spending machine with a less aggressive foreign policy.  But Trump is a grotesque bully, whose wild divagations of the mind exhibit neo-fascist behaviour by inflaming hatred and xenophobia among his alienated and adoring supporters.  His recent kowtowing to Israel on the question of military aid [6] suggests Trump is a transparent phony to boot.  So, ‘Trump the Bully’ will end up spending what the power brokers in the MICC’s Iron Triangle tell him to spend.
Hillary Clinton’s public attitude toward defense spending is one of maintaining silence, no doubt to pacify the left.  All she has said (last September) was that she would appoint a blue ribbon panel to examine the size of the defense budget, if elected president. [7]  But her attitude toward the “symptom" of the domestic political imperative to keep spending at high levels — i.e., her attitude toward America’s militarized foreign policy — is obvious and ominous as David Bromwich brilliantly explains in The Roots of Hillary’s Infatuation with War — a very important essay, which I urge readers to study carefully.   She will play the tough girl, and in so doing, like Mr. Trump, she will also end up spending what the power brokers in the MICC’s Iron Triangle tell her to spend.
In short, President Obama is leaving his successor with a defense budget time bomb.  But what passes for checks and balances on the Pentagon and its allies in the arms industry and in Congress has completely broken down in the election of 2016.  This is Eisenhower’s nightmare writ large.
When I worked in  the Pentagon, we had a term for describing this type of sick situation — the United States has maneuvered itself into one big sticky "chocolate mess." 
------------------------ 
The Roots of Hillary's Infatuation with War
An incorrigible belief in the purity of one’s motives is among the most dangerous endowments a politician can possess.
David Bromwich, The National Interest, June 29, 2016
David Bromwich is Sterling Professor of English at Yale University. He is the author of The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: From the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence (Belknap Press, 2014).
***

IN THE early 1970s, Hillary Clinton was a familiar face in the left-liberal milieu she had cast her lot with: a volunteer for the Yale Law School watchdog committee to monitor fairness in the trial of the Black Panther leader Bobby Seale; a worker for Marian Wright Edelman’s Washington Research Project (the precursor of the Children’s Defense Fund); a member of the legal staff of the Nixon impeachment inquiry. In one cause, however, she was mostly absent and unaccounted for: the protest against the Vietnam War. A friend of the Clintons, Greg Craig, told the New York Times reporter Mark Landler that while others in their circle were “heavily involved” in antiwar activism, “I don’t remember Hillary having much to do with that.” Clinton gave two pages to the war in her memoir Living History. She sympathized there with the burden of responsibility borne by President Johnson for “a war he’d inherited,” which turned out to be “a tragic mistake.” Johnson is her focus: the man of power who rode a tiger he could not dismount. On a second reading, “mistake” may seem too light a word to characterize a war that destroyed an agrarian culture forever and killed between one and three million Vietnamese. “Mistake” is also the word that Hillary Clinton has favored in answering questions about her vote for the Iraq War. (... continued)

28 June 2016

The Age of Disintegration


Neoliberalism, Interventionism, the Resource Curse, and a Fragmenting World  
By Patrick Cockburn, TomDispatch, 28 June 2016
Re-posted with permission of the author and the editor/publisher of TomDispatch. Patrick Cockburn writes for the Independent and is —at least in my opinion — the finest journalist now covering the Middle East.  His latest book (just out in paperback), Chaos & Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East, summarizes much of his work from the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to Iraq in 2015. It can be purchased by buying it directly from his publisher, OR Books, by clicking here.
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We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are tearing apart the countries in which they are taking place in ways that make it doubtful they will ever recover. Cities like Aleppo in Syria, Ramadi in Iraq, Taiz in Yemen, and Benghazi in Libya have been partly or entirely reduced to ruins. There are also at least three other serious insurgencies: in southeast Turkey, where Kurdish guerrillas are fighting the Turkish army, in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where a little-reported but ferocious guerrilla conflict is underway, and in northeast Nigeria and neighboring countries where Boko Haram continues to launch murderous attacks.
All of these have a number of things in common: they are endless and seem never to produce definitive winners or losers. (Afghanistan has effectively been at war since 1979, Somalia since 1991.) They involve the destruction or dismemberment of unified nations, their de facto partition amid mass population movements and upheavals -- well publicized in the case of Syria and Iraq, less so in places like South Sudan where more than 2.4 million people have been displaced in recent years.
Add in one more similarity, no less crucial for being obvious: in most of these countries, where Islam is the dominant religion, extreme Salafi-Jihadi movements, including the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda, and the Taliban are essentially the only available vehicles for protest and rebellion. By now, they have completely replaced the socialist and nationalist movements that predominated in the twentieth century; these years have, that is, seen a remarkable reversion to religious, ethnic, and tribal identity, to movements that seek to establish their own exclusive territory by the persecution and expulsion of minorities.
In the process and under the pressure of outside military intervention, a vast region of the planet seems to be cracking open. Yet there is very little understanding of these processes in Washington. This was recently well illustrated by the protest of 51 State Department diplomats against President Obama’s Syrian policy and their suggestion that air strikes be launched targeting Syrian regime forces in the belief that President Bashar al-Assad would then abide by a ceasefire. The diplomats’ approach remains typically simpleminded in this most complex of conflicts, assuming as it does that the Syrian government’s barrel-bombing of civilians and other grim acts are the “root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region.”
It is as if the minds of these diplomats were still in the Cold War era, as if they were still fighting the Soviet Union and its allies. Against all the evidence of the last five years, there is an assumption that a barely extant moderate Syrian opposition would benefit from the fall of Assad, and a lack of understanding that the armed opposition in Syria is entirely dominated by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda clones.
Though the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is now widely admitted to have been a mistake (even by those who supported it at the time), no real lessons have been learned about why direct or indirect military interventions by the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East over the last quarter century have all only exacerbated violence and accelerated state failure.
A Mass Extinction of Independent States
The Islamic State, just celebrating its second anniversary, is the grotesque outcome of this era of chaos and conflict. That such a monstrous cult exists at all is a symptom of the deep dislocation societies throughout that region, ruled by corrupt and discredited elites, have suffered. Its rise -- and that of various Taliban and al-Qaeda-style clones -- is a measure of the weakness of its opponents.
The Iraqi army and security forces, for example, had 350,000 soldiers and 660,000 police on the books in June 2014 when a few thousand Islamic State fighters captured Mosul, the country’s second largest city, which they still hold. Today the Iraqi army, security services, and about 20,000 Shia paramilitaries backed by the massive firepower of the United States and allied air forces have fought their way into the city of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, against the resistance of IS fighters who may have numbered as few as 900. In Afghanistan, the resurgence of the Taliban, supposedly decisively defeated in 2001, came about less because of the popularity of that movement than the contempt with which Afghans came to regard their corrupt government in Kabul.
Everywhere nation states are enfeebled or collapsing, as authoritarian leaders battle for survival in the face of mounting external and internal pressures. This is hardly the way the region was expected to develop. Countries that had escaped from colonial rule in the second half of the twentieth century were supposed to become more, not less, unified as time passed.
Between 1950 and 1975, nationalist leaders came to power in much of the previously colonized world. They promised to achieve national self-determination by creating powerful independent states through the concentration of whatever political, military, and economic resources were at hand. Instead, over the decades, many of these regimes transmuted into police states controlled by small numbers of staggeringly wealthy families and a coterie of businessmen dependent on their connections to such leaders as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt or Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
In recent years, such countries were also opened up to the economic whirlwind of neoliberalism, which destroyed any crude social contract that existed between rulers and ruled. Take Syria. There, rural towns and villages that had once supported the Baathist regime of the al-Assad family because it provided jobs and kept the prices of necessities low were, after 2000, abandoned to market forces skewed in favor of those in power. These places would become the backbone of the post-2011 uprising. At the same time, institutions like the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that had done so much to enhance the wealth and power of regional oil producers in the 1970s have lost their capacity for united action.


The question for our moment: Why is a “mass extinction” of independent states taking place in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond? Western politicians and media often refer to such countries as “failed states.” The implication embedded in that term is that the process is a self-destructive one. But several of the states now labeled “failed” like Libya only became so after Western-backed opposition movements seized power with the support and military intervention of Washington and NATO, and proved too weak to impose their own central governments and so a monopoly of violence within the national territory.
In many ways, this process began with the intervention of a U.S.-led coalition in Iraq in 2003 leading to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the shutting down of his Baathist Party, and the disbanding of his military. Whatever their faults, Saddam and Libya’s autocratic ruler Muammar Gaddafi were clearly demonized and blamed for all ethnic, sectarian, and regional differences in the countries they ruled, forces that were, in fact, set loose in grim ways upon their deaths.
A question remains, however: Why did the opposition to autocracy and to Western intervention take on an Islamic form and why were the Islamic movements that came to dominate the armed resistance in Iraq and Syria in particular so violent, regressive, and sectarian? Put another way, how could such groups find so many people willing to die for their causes, while their opponents found so few? When IS battle groups were sweeping through northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, soldiers who had thrown aside their uniforms and weapons and deserted that country’s northern cities would justify their flight by saying derisively: “Die for [then-Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki? Never!”
A common explanation for the rise of Islamic resistance movements is that the socialist, secularist, and nationalist opposition had been crushed by the old regimes' security forces, while the Islamists were not. In countries like Libya and Syria, however, Islamists were savagely persecuted, too, and they still came to dominate the opposition. And yet, while these religious movements were strong enough to oppose governments, they generally have not proven strong enough to replace them.
Too Weak to Win, But Too Strong to Lose
Though there are clearly many reasons for the present disintegration of states and they differ somewhat from place to place, one thing is beyond question: the phenomenon itself is becoming the norm across vast reaches of the planet.
If you’re looking for the causes of state failure in our time, the place to start is undoubtedly with the end of the Cold War a quarter-century ago. Once it was over, neither the U.S. nor the new Russia that emerged from the Soviet Union’s implosion had a significant interest in continuing to prop up “failed states,” as each had for so long, fearing that the rival superpower and its local proxies would otherwise take over. Previously, national leaders in places like the Greater Middle East had been able to maintain a degree of independence for their countries by balancing between Moscow and Washington. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, this was no longer feasible.
In addition, the triumph of neoliberal free-market economics in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse added a critical element to the mix. It would prove far more destabilizing than it looked at the time.
Again, consider Syria. The expansion of the free market in a country where there was neither democratic accountability nor the rule of law meant one thing above all: plutocrats linked to the nation’s ruling family took anything that seemed potentially profitable. In the process, they grew staggeringly wealthy, while the denizens of Syria’s impoverished villages, country towns, and city slums, who had once looked to the state for jobs and cheap food, suffered. It should have surprised no one that those places became the strongholds of the Syrian uprising after 2011. In the capital, Damascus, as the reign of neoliberalism spread, even the lesser members of the mukhabarat, or secret police, found themselves living on only $200 to $300 a month, while the state became a machine for thievery.
This sort of thievery and the auctioning off of the nation’s patrimony spread across the region in these years. The new Egyptian ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, merciless toward any sign of domestic dissent, was typical. In a country that once had been a standard bearer for nationalist regimes the world over, he didn’t hesitate this April to try to hand over two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia on whose funding and aid his regime is dependent. (To the surprise of everyone, an Egyptian court recently overruled Sisi's decision.)
That gesture, deeply unpopular among increasingly impoverished Egyptians, was symbolic of a larger change in the balance of power in the Middle East: once the most powerful states in the region -- Egypt, Syria, and Iraq -- had been secular nationalists and a genuine counterbalance to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf monarchies. As those secular autocracies weakened, however, the power and influence of the Sunni fundamentalist monarchies only increased. If 2011 saw rebellion and revolution spread across the Greater Middle East as the Arab Spring briefly blossomed, it also saw counterrevolution spread, funded by those oil-rich absolute Gulf monarchies, which were never going to tolerate democratic secular regime change in Syria or Libya.
Add in one more process at work making such states ever more fragile: the production and sale of natural resources -- oil, gas, and minerals -- and the kleptomania that goes with it. Such countries often suffer from what has become known as “the resources curse”: states increasingly dependent for revenues on the sale of their natural resources -- enough to theoretically provide the whole population with a reasonably decent standard of living -- turn instead into grotesquely corrupt dictatorships. In them, the yachts of local billionaires with crucial connections to the regime of the moment bob in harbors surrounded by slums running with raw sewage. In such nations, politics tends to focus on elites battling and maneuvering to steal state revenues and transfer them as rapidly as possible out of the country.
This has been the pattern of economic and political life in much of sub-Saharan Africa from Angola to Nigeria. In the Middle East and North Africa, however, a somewhat different system exists, one usually misunderstood by the outside world. There is similarly great inequality in Iraq or Saudi Arabia with similarly kleptocratic elites. They have, however, ruled over patronage states in which a significant part of the population is offered jobs in the public sector in return for political passivity or support for the kleptocrats.
In Iraq with a population of 33 million people, for instance, no less than seven million of them are on the government payroll, thanks to salaries or pensions that cost the government $4 billion a month. This crude way of distributing oil revenues to the people has often been denounced by Western commentators and economists as corruption. They, in turn, generally recommend cutting the number of these jobs, but this would mean that all, rather than just part, of the state’s resource revenues would be stolen by the elite. This, in fact, is increasingly the case in such lands as oil prices bottom out and even the Saudi royals begin to cut back on state support for the populace.
Neoliberalism was once believed to be the path to secular democracy and free-market economies. In practice, it has been anything but. Instead, in conjunction with the resource curse, as well as repeated military interventions by Washington and its allies, free-market economics has profoundly destabilized the Greater Middle East. Encouraged by Washington and Brussels, twenty-first-century neoliberalism has made unequal societies ever more unequal and helped transform already corrupt regimes into looting machines. This is also, of course, a formula for the success of the Islamic State or any other radical alternative to the status quo. Such movements are bound to find support in impoverished or neglected regions like eastern Syria or eastern Libya.
Note, however, that this process of destabilization is by no means confined to the Greater Middle East and North Africa. We are indeed in the age of destabilization, a phenomenon that is on the rise globally and at present spreading into the Balkans and Eastern Europe (with the European Union ever less able to influence events there). People no longer speak of European integration, but of how to prevent the complete break-up of the European Union in the wake of the British vote to leave.
The reasons why a narrow majority of Britons voted for Brexit have parallels with the Middle East: the free-market economic policies pursued by governments since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister have widened the gap between rich and poor and between wealthy cities and much of the rest of the country. Britain might be doing well, but millions of Britons did not share in the prosperity. The referendum about continued membership in the European Union, the option almost universally advocated by the British establishment, became the catalyst for protest against the status quo. The anger of the "Leave" voters has much in common with that of Donald Trump supporters in the United States.
The U.S. remains a superpower, but is no longer as powerful as it once was. It, too, is feeling the strains of this global moment, in which it and its local allies are powerful enough to imagine they can get rid of regimes they do not like, but either they do not quite succeed, as in Syria, or succeed but cannot replace what they have destroyed, as in Libya. An Iraqi politician once said that the problem in his country was that parties and movements were “too weak to win, but too strong to lose.” This is increasingly the pattern for the whole region and is spreading elsewhere. It carries with it the possibility of an endless cycle of indecisive wars and an era of instability that has already begun.

Patrick Cockburn is a Middle East correspondent for the Independent of London and the author of five books on the Middle East, the latest of which is Chaos and Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East (OR Books).

27 June 2016

Trumping Hillary: The Same Old Pol-Mil Game


Will the 2016 Election Change America’s Militarized Foreign Policy?
Pro-Israel Neocons have said they will jump off the Republican ship and vote for Hillary Clinton, because she will continue business as usual with regard to our militarized foreign policy.  Apologists for Donald Trump argue that he will pursue a more restrained and less warlike foreign policy, including a more balanced policy toward Israel.  
But recent  report by Stuart Winer in the Times of Israel suggests Trump’s bombastic 'art of the deal,’ at least when applied to pol-mil policy, will turn out to be yet another politician's distinction without a difference — to wit:
A senior adviser to Donald Trump said Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should wait for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to win the White House before signing a military aid deal with Washington, because Trump would offer a better deal than the Obama administration
In an interview with Channel 2 television David Friedman said that a Trump administration would maintain Israel’s military advantage over its neighbors. He said Trump would not reduce defense aid to Israel but “in all likelihood will increase it significantly.”
“The aid package will certainly not go down in all likelihood it will go up in a material amount because Israel must maintain a technological and military superiority within the region,” Freidman said. “I can’t give advice how Israel should bargain and develop its own strategy.”
Friedman’s suggestion that Trump would increase aid to Israel apparently ran contrary to the GOP candidate’s call to make Israel pay back foreign aid. In March, Trump said he believed Israel should pay for defense aid it receives from the US.
Could it be that the choice for President in 2016 will have no effect on America's militarized foreign policy, and if so, would this be something new and different? 
As with most political questions in Versailles on the Potomac, the pathway to answering this question is less one of Ivory-tower policy analysis than a gritty one of following the money  — in this case the money flowing through the triangular relations of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex.  It is a question that goes to the heart of President Eisenhower’s prophetic warning, "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."
More on this question later.

20 June 2016

Update on the Palestinian Water Crisis


Access to water is one of the most fundamental and least discussed issues underpinning the Israeli - Palestinian conflict (as well as the recurring pattern of Israel’s conflicts with Syria and Lebanon).  Control of the West Bank’s water resources is intimately tied into the growing pattern of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and, if left unchecked, Israel’s inevitable annexation of Area C (60%) of the West Bank (thereby formalizing the Gazification of Areas A&B).   Water resources are also intimately woven into the pattern of destruction in Israel’s siege of the Gaza ghetto. 
Most Americans remain unaware of water’s central importance in this conflict. Yet a fair and equitable solution to this issue is a necessary albeit not sufficient condition for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on terms that do not sow the seeds for future conflict. 
The parameters of the water question in the Jordan River Valley have been long understood, if ignored, by American policy makers (see the 1955 Johnston Plan and the Johnston Plan Revisited).  Indeed, in its current context, the these parameters reach back to the 3 February 1919 Zionist proposal to Versailles Peace Conference for a Jewish national home (do a word search for “water” and think about the implications of the highlighted text).  More generally, the history of access to water in this region reaches back to the dawn of civilization and the creation of agriculture.  The Jordan River drainage system (along with Lebanon’s surface water systems) together with the aquifers in the highlands of the West Bank (and of Lebanon) connect the two wings of the Fertile Crescent stretching from the Nile River system in the West to Tigris and Euphrates River systems in the East.  It is no accident that the location of one of the world’s oldest cities, the Palestinian canton of Jericho, was determined in large part by its access to the wells and springs in the center of this link.
I first became interested in this issue in 2001 (and did a subsequent, more extensive analysis in 2003 here).  Since 2001, the water question has worsened with each passing year, yet it still receives almost no attention in the mainstream media.  
The attached analysis by Camilla Corradin in Aljazeera is an excellent update of this steadily worsening question.  The links in her report are particularly important sources of information.  I urge readers to read the links as well as her essay.

Israel: Water as a tool to dominate Palestinians
Israel deliberately denies Palestinians control over their water sources and sets the ground for water domination.
Camilla Corradin, Aljazeera, 20 June 2016
Occupied West Bank - As temperatures rise and summer months approach, yet again this year, thousands of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are being deprived of their most basic need - access to water - as the Israeli national water company Mekorot restricted the water supply to villages and towns in northern West Bank.
Although extremely worrying for the livelihood and health impact on the affected tens of thousands of Palestinians, this comes to little surprise.
Since it occupied the West Bank in 1967, Israel has laid hands on Palestinian water resources through discriminatory water-sharing agreements that prevented Palestinians from maintaining or developing their water infrastructure through its illegal planning and permit regime. As a result, thousands of Palestinians are unable to access sufficient water supplies and became water-dependent on Israel.
By building on the myth of a water-scarce region - Ramallah has more rainfall than London - Israel has deliberately denied Palestinians control over their water resources and successfully set the ground for water domination, granting itself a further tool to exercise its hegemony over the occupied population and territory.


Palestinian water resources in the West Bank wouldn't be scarce - they include the Jordan River, running all along the eastern border of the West Bank, and the Mountain Aquifer underlying the West Bank and Israel. Both water resources are transboundary - meaning that, by international law, they should be shared in an equitable and reasonable manner by Israel and Palestine.
Yet, since Israel took over the West Bank in 1967, Israel has remained in near full control over Palestinian water resources in the West Bank.
Israel fully prevents Palestinians from accessing the Jordan River and using its water. As for the Mountain Aquifer, the 1995 Oslo II interim agreement - which also defined the water-sharing arrangements between Palestine and Israel - came to consolidate the Israeli control that had been in place since 1967.
Israel was granted access to over 71 percent of the aquifer water, while Palestinians were only granted 17 percent. While the agreement was supposed to last five years only, 20 years later, it is still in place.
Water-sharing agreement discussions are left to the long-awaited final status negotiations.
While the Palestinian population of the West Bank has almost doubled since, allocations have remained capped at 1995 levels. Today, Palestinians have access to less water than they were granted by the already-inequitable Oslo agreements: 13 percent, with Israel abstracting the remaining 87.
Indeed, as pointed out by the World Bank in its 2009 report about the water sector in Palestine, due to the dual Israeli permit regime, Palestinians have been unable to maintain and develop their water infrastructure.
In Palestinian wells where the water table has dropped, for instance, the Israeli restrictions on drilling, deepening and rehabilitation have made the wells un-usable and Palestinian water abstraction levels decline.
On the one hand, Palestinian water projects all over the West Bank need an approval by the Joint Water Committee (JWC), where Israel has a de facto veto power. Only 56 percent of Palestinian projects regarding water and sanitation were granted permits by the JWC (against a near 100 percent approval rate for the Israeli projects), and only one-third of those could actually be implemented.
Concerned by the asymmetry in the JWC functioning, Palestinians have refused to sit in the committee since 2010.
In addition to the JWC approval, all projects in Area C also require a permit by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), which are notoriously difficult to obtain. As reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the ICA has refused between 2010 and 2014 98.5 percent of the Palestinian building permit applications for Area C projects.
Over 50 water and sanitation structures have been demolished by Israel since the beginning of 2016 already (more than in the entire 2015) on grounds that they were lacking the Israeli permits.
Israel's claims that the failing water infrastructure is the cause of the water cuts in the West Bank fail to acknowledge that the poor infrastructure is a direct result of the Israeli permit regime in the West Bank.
The lack of water and other basic services resulting from Israeli policies has created a coercive environment that often leaves Palestinians with no choice but to leave their communities in Area C, allowing Israel's land takeover and further expansion of its settlements.
But as recent events have shown, Areas A and B are not safe havens either. Due to the lack of sufficient water resources available, Palestine heavily depends on water bought from Mekorot (18.5 percent in 2014). Ironically, this is water that Israel takes from the rightful Palestinian share - which they are denied - before selling it back to them.
This has granted Israel further control over Palestinian access to water. As soon as water demand increases in the hot spring and summer months, supplies to settlements are privileged over Palestinian areas in the West Bank.
Every year, water supply to Palestinian towns and villages is cut off for days - if not weeks - during which Palestinians are forced to buy trucked water at five times the price of network water - as well as reduce their already low consumption.
Water consumption figures are telling: While Israelis have access to around 240 litres of water per person per day, and settlers over 300, Palestinians in the West Bank are left with 73 litres - well below the World Health Organization's minimum standard of 100.
OCHA report that in Area C, where 180 Palestinian communities are not connected to the water network and 122 have a connection with no or irregular supply as a result of Israeli restrictions, water consumption can drop to 20 litres of water per person per day as people have to buy expensive trucked water.
Here, vulnerable households spend up to one-fifth of their salary on water.
For instance, while people in the Palestinian community of al-Hadidiya in the northern Jordan Valley have access to as little as 20 litres of water per person per day - settlers in the neighbouring settlement of Ro'i enjoy 460 litres of water per person for domestic use only, a swimming pool and flourishing agriculture.
Israel, as the occupying power has an obligation under international humanitarian law to ensure the dignity and wellbeing of the population under its control.
This includes obligations regarding the provision of and access to humanitarian relief and basic services, including water and sanitation.
Not only is Israel failing to provide for such basic needs. Its discriminatory water policies also prove that Israel is using water as a tool to dominate Palestinians, exercise its power, and punish an entire population by deliberately depriving its inhabitants the most basic of rights.

Camilla Corradin is advocating for Palestinian water rights with the EWASH NGOs coalitio